FP: Fighter Jets Sale to Turkey Could Pit Trump Against Congress

U.S. lawmakers are threatening to block Turkey from obtaining its promised fleet of 100 F-35 fighter jets over Ankara’s human rights violations and planned purchase of a controversial Russian air defense system – however, it’s not clear that President Donald Trump’s administration will back them up, Foreign Policy informs.

Turkey just received its first aircraft during a June 21 rollout ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas facility. But members of U.S. Congress are pushing to prevent the planned transfer of those jets across the Atlantic to Turkey next summer, after pilot training wraps up, and to kick Ankara out of the nine-nation F-35 consortium altogether.

The issue underscores how tense U.S.-Turkey relations have become in recent years, as the NATO allies have clashed in recent months over Turkish expansion of its campaign in Syria and U.S. support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia, as well as Turkey’s detention of an American pastor and deepening ties with Russia.

The international community has also widely condemned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purge of military officials and civil servants after a 2016 coup attempt – and caught in the middle of the tense bilateral relations is the United States’ flagship fighter jet.

Lawmakers and top U.S. brass have warned against Turkey’s planned purchase of the sophisticated Russian-built S-400 missile system, and according to officials, the integration of the S-400 with the F-35 and NATO air defenses could compromise closely guarded military secrets.

“Most of the leaders I dealt with in Turkey are in prison right now. The assumption was, these are our allies and they will be our allies forever, but now we have Erdogan and we have the Russian S-400, so do we want the F-35 in an authoritarian Turkey?” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tome Walters, who served as director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency from 2000 to 2004.

Other experts told FP that Congress is using the F-35 to crank up pressure on Turkey for the release of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who has been detained in Turkey for more than a year and a half.

“What is really driving this congressional action is frustration with the continued detainment of Pastor Brunson,” said Amanda Sloat, a former senior State Department official who worked on relations with Turkey.

Meanwhile, FP notes that Trump has made boosting U.S. arms sales to allies a priority – and as part of its broader Buy American policy, the Trump administration recently unveiled a series of changes to export rules making it easier for U.S. allies to obtain a variety of weapons systems, particularly drones.

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